Karen Ventura and Hector Briceno share a similar story. They came to the U.S. when they were children and grew up in the states. Both consider this their home. In 2012, both obtained Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA is an executive order that allowed people, commonly referred to as Dreamers, who entered the country as children and stayed illegally, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and a work permit. This is the story of Ventura and Briceno. A story of being a Dreamer.
William Penn University (WPU) student Hector Briceno came to the U.S. with his parents on a visa when he was 9 years old. After the visa expired he and his family stayed in the U.S. For Briceno, adapting to the American lifestyle was hard at first. “Being from Mexico and a small town to going to Phoenix was just something huge and different,” said Briceno. His Mexican school had about 150 students. In Arizona that number increased to around 2,000. Since he attended a private school in Mexico, Briceno had vague knowledge of the English language. However, according to him, there was still a language barrier in terms of understanding the variety of accents.
Ventura, a WPU alumna, is very open about her status and even made a video on YouTube to bring awareness to the story of a Dreamer. She entered the U.S. for the first time when she was 9 years old. She visited her mother who had been in the country for a while, working hard to eventually get her children to the states. Ventura had to go back to Guatemala and seven months later she entered the U.S. again and has been here ever since. She grew up in Iowa and as a child, she was not aware of what overstaying her visa meant. “When I graduated high school I realized I couldn’t get any further than that without documents.” With the help of a local and influential employer she got the chance to attend WPU. However, in the same year, Ventura’s mother was deported after living in the U.S. for more than 18 years and working legally. Even though her work permit had not expired yet, she was taken by Immigration Customs Enforcement and, according to Ventura, was treated like a criminal. She spent two weeks in jail before being deported to Guatemala.
“It is very devastating to know that this is ending. Applying for it, I knew that it was going to be just a temporary solution. It has given me so much. A sense of security…in a way,” Ventura said. Having the deportation protection status was so important for Ventura because having a valid work ID does not guarantee that she won’t get deported. “My mother was deported under a valid work permit. That doesn’t guarantee any sense of security.”
President Donald Trump announced his intention to end DACA on Sept. 5 – which would affect nearly 800,000 Dreamers – and asked Congress to find a solution before March 5, 2018. This is when DACA recipients begin to lose their status. This situation has brought a lot of emotional stress to Briceno’s family.
“My mom is really stressed about my school and what’s going to happen with that,” Briceno said.
Briceno is a senior and scheduled to graduate in May. He said that his mother is very nervous about him not getting his degree if there is not going to be an alternative to DACA.
“I don’t think that a person that is doing something right, like going to school, should be punished this way. Those people are going to school, trying to get a degree, trying to do something for the community of America,” Briceno said.
When DACA was established in 2012 Ventura applied for it right away. Then, in Iowa, driver’s licenses were only issued for a couple of weeks. When she went to obtain one, they were not issuing them anymore. A couple of weeks later, Ventura and a group of people close to her, lobbied with Gov. Terry Branstad. According to Ventura, the results of the lobbying were having driver’s licenses issued again for DACA recipients in Iowa. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 5,578 Dreamers reside in Iowa as of March 2017. Arizona is home to 51,503 DACA recipients.
Compared to Ventura, Briceno was not able to obtain a driver’s license in his home state in 2012. Arizona did not give out driver’s licenses for DACA recipients until January 2015. However, not being able to drive doesn’t compare with not being able to travel back home. Dreamers are not allowed to leave the country and visit family in their home country.
“I haven’t seen Mexico in seven or eight years. If they would grant us visits to Mexico, like two visits a year, do you think we wouldn’t appreciate that? We’re not in jail. I did not choose to be here,” Briceno said.
He also said that with the permit, Dreamers get the chance to go to school, but the government does not support them with FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid) and loans.
“We’re paying taxes. We’re paying everything you need to pay. We’re doing everything,” Briceno said. “We’re providing knowledge as well. There are people with degrees and knowledge.”
Ventura shares the same opinion.
“A lot of the Dreamers are contributing and doing good things for this country. There is no sense in denying us that [DACA] because then we are able to do anything. You’re going to lose a lot of great people in the country if they take that away,” Ventura said.
Briceno also has an 11-year-old sister who was born in the U.S. His mother talked to him about having Briceno adopt his sister, in case their mother gets deported back to Mexico.
“My mom is (the) type of person who gets scared so quickly because of what has been going on. So now my sister is just like that,” Briceno said.
Aside from growing up in the U.S., there are other things that make Ventura want to stay here.
“I feel like this is my home even though I was not born here. It’s hard to think that I would have to go back to my home country where I was born because I don’t know anything there. And I have my family here,” Ventura said.
She has two sons who were born in the U.S. and it is very important for her to talk about things like the current situation of DACA with them.
“I have to talk about these things with my children even though it’s hard because I experienced the deportation with my mother and I was older, but my sister was 12. She had to grow up without a mom. Anything can happen and it’s just so hard to put this pressure, this type of burden, on these children. They shouldn’t have to worry about these things but I have to tell them because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Ventura said.
Especially for her youngest son it is hard to deal with this situation. “He had nightmares for the past weeks of me being taken away,” Ventura said.
According to Ventura, there are simple ways to help people who will be impacted. Reaching out to the government is essential.
“It is important to get support from other people. Send an email, write a letter, call the representative. Then they know the people care and they want to make changes,” Ventura said.
She adds that people should not blindly trust what is said on the media and encourages people to obtain information about DACA.
“Take the time to talk to somebody that has this status and ask them,” Ventura said. A Dreamer status that has meant so much to both Ventura and Briceno.“I just want to have the same opportunities as everyone has,” Briceno said. “The biggest part of my life is here. The best chapter of my life is here in America.”